I have nothing against intellect. I love to think. I sometimes joke I like the concept of people better than people! Intellect is a critical aspect to everything we do including the story-crafting process.
However I am convinced that what is most at work when a moviegoer makes a connection to a film spooling out on screen is fundamentally an emotional dynamic. It is those moments, those characters, those layers which move us emotionally that are the single most important component of why we love a movie.
Now let’s be clear: By “emotional,” I do not mean melodrama. Or buckets of tears [although stories can generate them]. Or over-emotional. I simply mean those layers of a story where something is going on that engages a script reader or movie viewer’s emotional self. If the word itself throws you, substitute “psychological.” Your story’s psychological life.
All this is a way of framing a discussion about theme I want to have this week. If we were taught anything at all about it in writing class in high school or college, it was probably that theme is the moral of the story. There’s nothing wrong with a story having a moral. But in my view, this defintion neuters the potential of what theme can mean to you and your stories.
We don’t emerge from a movie theater and say, “Wow, the moral of that story really moved me.” No, we talk about characters, scenes, moments, events in the story that evoked an emotional response in us.
In other words, when people watch a movie, they not only want to be entertained, they want to be engaged psychologically by what they see and hear.
Why not center the idea of theme in that experience?
If you have trouble figuring out your story’s themes, surface the emotional dynamics, and you will find them.
If you have difficulty managing your story’s themes, track the emotional dynamics, and you will get a handle on them.
Theme = Meaning. In particular, theme equals a story emotional meaning.
So this week as we consider the dynamic of theme, let’s start here:
Your story’s emotional life.
The Quest” has entered Week 21! And so did Go On Your Own Quest, an opportunity for anyone to follow the structure of “The Quest” to dig into screenwriting theory [Core – 8 weeks], figure out your story [Prep – 6 weeks], and write a first draft [Pages – 10 weeks]. It’s a 24-week immersion in the screenwriting process and you can do it here – for free!
Today and every Monday through Friday for 10 weeks, I’ll use this slot to post something inspirational as GOYOQ participants pound out their first drafts.
For all the previous weeks of Go On Your Own Quest posts, go here.
Join the GOYOQ Forums, a free online hub where you and other Quest participants can go to support each other and share your stories. Go here.